The following is from LA Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg's
daily column in the Calendar section.
July 7, 1993
CBS on 'Ark': Mum's Still the Word
by Howard Rosenberg
Television: Despite allegations that the show may have been
substantially false, the network has not uttered an on-air word
about the charges. Network officials say allegations are still
It's been four and a half months since CBS aired a two-hour
prime-time special titled "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's
Ark" that was immediately attacked by some scholars as a sham.
It's been more than a week since Time magazine disclosed that
a large hunk of the documentary-style program were an apparent
hoax and since the Associated Press did a follow-up story on
the Time report.
And still CBS has not aired a correction. Or an elaboration. Or
"Clearly, we are concerned about it, and we're investigating and
trying to get substantiation from the producer," CBS spokeswoman
Susan Tick said Tuesday in response to a call from The Times.
What this incident illuminates, however, is not only the sloppiness
of CBS in verifying the accuracy of non-news information programs it
airs but also its incredible double standard regarding truth in news
and entertainment programming.
CBS has not uttered a word on television informing the estimated
20 million Americans who watched and possibly believed this program,
which was produced by Sun International Pictures of Utah, that its
pseudo science -- appearing to confirm the creationist theory that
Noah's ark existed -- may have been [was] substantially false. That,
among other things:
- George Jammal, a man who claimed on the program to have visited
Turkey's Mount Ararat in 1984 and returned with a chunk of Noah's
ark, apparently had never been there.
- The wood that part-time actor Jammal held in his hand as proof, and
which he described as "a gift from God," was apparently phony, a
piece of contemporary pine treated to look like the real thing.
- Jammal had been coached for his TV "performance" by Gerald Larue,
a professor emeritus of biblical history and archaeology at the
University of Southern California, who told Time and the Associated
Press that he perpetuated this trickery to demonstrate the sloppy
research of Sun International Pictures.
"The didn't test the wood," Larue told the Associated Press. "They
didn't even check on Jammal. They just bought into the story."
Dave Balsinger, a field producer and chief researcher for the
program, maintained to the Associated Press that Sun International
did investigate Jammal, but "couldn't test the wood in time for our
Larue told both Time and the Associated Press that he had coached
Jammal about how to act as if he had actually been to Mount Ararat.
Reached by phone Tuesday by The Times, Larue said he has not been
contacted by either the production company or CBS since going public.
What he would have told them, Larue said, was that Jammal, an
acquaintance of some time, contacted him after being asked to appear
on the program. "He said he had made contact with creationist
research people, and that he had a piece of wood. I think it was a
lark with him."
Larue, who has not seen the piece of wood in question, said Jammal
told him he had "soaked it in various juices and baked it in the oven
to give a real hard finish. If anyone had looked under the finish,
they would have seen what it really was."
Jammal told him he was paid $500 by the production company for his
appearance on the program, said Larue, who added that he himself was
paid $200 to appear briefly in a previous Sun Internationl biblical
special on CBS, and that it was the questionable techniques used on
this earlier program that motivated him to take part in the latest
"This is a cover-up," Larue said about the network's lethargic
response to the "Noah's Ark" program. "CBS must be pretty
Not that CBS gives that impression.
"When we bought the special, it was an entertainment special, not a
documentary," an unnamed CBS spokeswoman told Time, appearing to
rationalize the program's content. That was also what CBS spokeswoman
Beth Comstock told the Associated Press, adding, "We certainly were
not aware of any 'alleged' hoax."
And now that they are ... is initial dumbness a valid excuse for not
correcting the record?
Hardly. The notion that CBS would excuse the program's "alleged"
inaccuracies because it was intended as "entertainment" and was not a
documentary from its own news division is appallingly arrogant and
irresponsible. If the network had integrity, a story about the
controversy would have appeared on "The CBS Evening News" by this
time, and CBS would have purchased ads in major newspapers setting the
By not doing any of the above, CBS cavalierly has ignored a dangerous
phenomena in contemporary television: the blurring of traditional
lines between news and entertainment. News, "reality" and
entertainment programs increasingly join each other in broadcast
schedules that are designed by networks and individual stations to be
perceived as giant blocs of information. That one component may come
from CBS News, as in the prime-time series "48 Hours," and another
from an outside producer of pseudo-documentaries, a la "The Incredible
Discovery of Noah's Ark," is a distinction lost on most viewers.
Everyone in the media makes errors, and even news organizations are
sometimes agonizingly slow to come clean publicly. But until
spokeswoman Tick's comment Tuesday, CBS hadn't even indicated that it
was concerned by these allegations. And only now is the network
seeking substantiation from the producer?
If CBS cannot be trusted to be straight with America on its "Noah's
Ark" program, how can it be trusted to be forthright in labeling its
programs under the coming system of "violence advisories" announced by
the networks last week?
Jammal did not return calls from The Times, and earlier spoke only
tersely to the Associated Press, refusing to comment on the program.
"He's scared," Larue said Tuesday. "He's in a deep hole."
So is CBS -- one of its own making.
Brett J. Vickers email@example.com
"Eighty percent of air pollution comes from plants and
trees." - Ronald Reagan, famous movie star